Following his introductory news conference last week, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was asked about the team’s running game.
“I know that Ryan [Williams] can flat run the football,” Arians said. “I’m a Hokie. I know all about Ryan and I love him.”
Arians attended and played college football at Virginia Tech. Maybe that’s why he never mentioned the guy at the top of the Cardinals’ depth chart: Beanie Wells. Or maybe it was just an oversight.
Wells certainly hopes so, because he’s looking at this coaching change as a chance for a fresh start. Wells finished with career lows in carries (88) and yards (234) this season after spending the first half of the year on IR to heal his surgically repaired knee and, to a lesser extent, a severe case of turf toe.
“This was a difficult season for me, personally,” said Wells, who arrived back in the Valley on Wednesday after spending some time with family and friends back home in Ohio. “There were a lot of challenges that I’ve never really faced before.”
Wells wasn’t talking about injuries. He was talking about his fractured relationship with recently-fired coach Ken Whisenhunt.
“We definitely had our fair share of disagreements this season, and I’ve never been in a situation like that before,” he said. “I respect coach Whiz a ton and I wish him all the best, but we didn’t see eye to eye on some things, and I don’t know what sparked it.”
The most recent tiff occurred when Wells was benched after the Bears returned his fumble for a touchdown in Arizona’s 28-13 loss to Chicago in the home finale.
“I didn’t agree with it at all,” Wells said at the time.
Wells told FOX Sports Arizona a few weeks before that benching that the final few games would serve to help him “get film out there” for other teams to see on the chance that he didn’t return to the Cardinals next season. He reiterated those statements to a group of reporters after the Bears game, and it sparked a controversy.
Some perceived Wells as acting selfish. Some thought he was being immature. But the genesis for those statements may have come two seasons earlier, when Wells had a torn meniscus repaired and some loose cartilage removed in an operation in September 2010.
The Cardinals originally reported the injury as a knee bruise, but Whisenhunt later confessed that Wells had the surgery after a reporter saw two small incisions below Wells’ knee and asked Whisenhunt about them.
Wells came to the Cardinals with a reputation for being injury-prone. Worse yet, some viewed him as soft. The fact that the Cardinals concealed the surgery only fueled that perception, and that didn’t sit well with Wells.
“I don’t want to say what happened this season stemmed from that, but who knows?” Wells said. “It was just weird having that kind of relationship with my coach.”
The two appeared to mend fences last season when Wells played through a knee injury to rush for 1,047 yards and 10 TDs. Whisenhunt praised Wells for his toughness, but the admiration apparently didn’t last into this season.
It’s difficult to gauge where the truth lies in this situation. It’s easy to toss a player with a previous reputation under the bus, and Wells has certainly had some injuries. But Whisenhunt also developed a reputation for essentially blackballing players once he had made up his mind about their attitude or their ability.
It happened with Matt Leinart. It happened with Tim Hightower. It happened with Wells, and it may have happened with John Skelton last season.
Fortunately for Wells, that is no longer an issue. He is entering the final year of his contract after he said the team picked up an option, and it is likely he will at least be in training camp since his salary is relatively low. His knee feels “the best it ever has” and his toe is a “non-issue.”
“I am excited about Coach Arians,” he said. “I’ve never had a problem with going out and proving myself, but this couldn’t have happened at a better time for me. I think it’s a way for me to get a fresh start under a new coaching staff. It’s a chance to let them form their own opinions of me instead of going off of the past.”